Everyone wants muscle because, after all, a chiselled, lean body is the pinnacle of fitness. But is it? What happens if in the pursuit of getting fit, ironically enough, you end up abusing the same body you’re working on?
This seems to be a pattern with many young fitness enthusiasts who are trying to build muscle. In the process, they end up putting extreme pressure on their kidneys often leading to chronic kidney problems and hypertension. A similar case was highlighted by a media report on 13 March, in which thirty-year-old Sidharth was rushed into emergency for a BP that was as high as 220/140 (the normal range is 140/90).
It was also found that his creatinine levels (a waste product that passes through the kidneys and is rejected by the body by way of the urine) was six times its normal level.
Further examination revealed that the reason behind the severe condition of a seemingly healthy person was the health supplements he had been taking for the last four years on the advice of his gym trainer. Sidharth’s kidneys were damaged irreversibly and they will never return to their normal functioning.
Supplement abuse is rampant in the fitness world. Enthusiasts often take to them without proper clearance from medical professionals and often feel the consequences much, much later in the day.
On World Kidney Day, here’s a look at all that health supplements might be doing to your kidneys.
How Harmful Are Muscle Tonics/Supplements?
Dr Salil Jain, Director, Nephrology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, New Delhi, comments on this concern of building muscle and says that the normal protein requirement for a body is 1 gm/kg of the body weight per day. Protein helps with building muscle in the body and overall fitness.
"The trend among young people nowadays, however, is to look for a short cut, and one of them happens to be supplements." - Dr Salil Jain
If you are an athlete or exercise regularly, your protein requirement goes up to 1.2 gms/kg of the body weight not more, points out the doctor. Yet people often end up with a protein intake which is as high as 2 gm.
Additionally, exercise often leads to muscle pain which leads people to take painkillers. This is often coupled with steroids and taking less liquids to dehydrate muscles and make them more defined. All of these things are a perfect combination for kidney damage, along with blood pressure or hypertension.
Cases of Kidney Transplant
From his experience, Dr Jain recalls patients as young as 25 years old and not more than 30, who look fit, but who have repeatedly practised unhealthy habits like these for two-three months and damaged their kidneys severely.
"All of these patients are young and look healthy and fit, but sometimes, we have even had to go ahead with kidney transplants. Their kidneys were irreversibly damaged." - Dr Salil Jain
Sometimes people also take vitamin D injections and in those cases their calcium levels go as high as 14-15 (around 10 is the average level for an Indian male). Dr Jain emphasises the need to always have an expert on board before taking any supplements.
Are There Any Specific Combinations That Need to be Avoided?
Sidharth had been taking a combination of caffeine, amino acids and creatine while working on his body. Are there any combinations in general that people need to stay away from?
Dr Jain points out the extent of damage painkillers can cause in this aspect. When they are mixed with supplements over a period of time, it can cause severe damage to the kidneys and the body.
Dr Manoj K Singhal, Director, Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Vaishali adds,
"Some people also take anabolic steroids along with supplements. Use of these steroids for long periods may cause adverse effects like mental complications, high BP, heart failure, liver and kidney dysfunction." - Dr Manoj K Singhal
If Protein From the Diet Isn’t Sufficient, What Should One Do?
Dr Jain insists on finding enough protein in your diet itself.
"Protein from the diet is better than any marketed supplement for you can never be sure of its purity. If you eat non-veg, stick to egg whites and chicken and if you’re a vegetarian, paneer, dal, tofu, soya, nutralite are all great options." - Dr Salil Jain
Dr Singhal accepts the challenge of building muscle and the importance of supplements in doing that. He adds:
"Appropriate exercise and adequate diet supplements are the only way to build muscle and stamina."
He, however, adds a word of caution:
"Testosterone and other anabolic steroids are only helpful if there is a deficiency. Avoid these steroids or get proper medical check up and advise before using them. "
Symptoms of Kidney Damage to Watch Out For
The thing about kidneys is that there are no symptoms until about 80 percent damage is already done, says Dr Jain. In most cases, by the time the first symptoms appear, the damage is already done.
"The best way to safeguard yourself against kidney damage is a urinary examination which always gives you a good idea of what’s going on with the kidneys. It costs something between Rs 50-100." - Dr Salil Jain
Dr Singhal adds that mental irritation, swelling over feet and shortness of breath may be indicators of adverse medical effects and kidney failure.
Some Lesser Known Things About Health Supplements
Dr Singhal asserts that even though health supplements in themselves are not harmful, they should be taken only when the normal dietary intake is not sufficient to fulfill the body’s requirements.
It’s also important to remember that your body has a capacity which should be respected at all times, says Dr Jain.
What Are Some Health Conditions During Which Supplements Should be Avoided?
One of the most common reasons for kidney disease all over the world is diabetes, points out Dr Jain. He further says since India has such a huge number of diabetics, there is also a splurge of kidney problems.
Dr Singhal lists down some other ailments, where patients should stay away from supplements to protect their kidneys.
"These supplements should be avoided if someone is already suffering from high BP, heart disease or liver disease." - Dr Manoj K Singhal
It takes 12-14 years for diabetes to damage kidneys. Since the survival rate has now increased, there is also a rise of kidney related problems among diabetic patients all over the world.
So, if you were to listen to the doctors, ensure that before taking any supplements, you consult a medical expert. You have just one body, use it well.
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